(As printed in the Dec. 16, 2012 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, Kans.)
The saddest Christmas experience I ever had was helping a friend bury her 16-month-old son the day after Christmas. He died on Dec. 22, 1999. I learned about it the next day, late at night, after I finished tucking my youngest daughter, one years old that day, into bed. I went downstairs to check my e-mail, and there it was – he most solemn letter I’ve ever read, from a distraught friend who knew no other way to get the news out to all of us moms in her stay-at-home mom’s group than to send out an e-mail. I wasn’t the only one in shock. Soon the phone calls began. None of us could believe this tragedy had hit so close to home.
Every once in awhile, you receive a Christmas reality check. Instead of lights and presents and opulence, you are confronted with the cold hard truth that Christmas in the true sense is not about all that. It’s about sacrifice and relationships and love. It’s a time to hold loved ones close in our arms and in our hearts, to give of ourselves in some meaningful way, to love one another. That, after all, is the message Jesus ultimately had for us.
At the time of this writing, I just learned there are at least 25 families that will be dealing with the deaths of their immediate family members tonight, and countless others in that community, that state, and around the nation that are personally touched by the tragedy of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. It’s a tragedy to lose, but especially bitter when children are lost. We will never forget the anguish witnessed on the faces of the parents of the children cruelly taken. There’s not a parent out there that doesn’t personally comprehend the depth of that pain.
Somehow, the fact I don’t have all my Christmas shopping done yet seems meaningless now, just as it did so many years ago. The greatest gift of all that I will have this year is my family at home. Yes, we’ll have presents to open and we’ll have a nice meal together, but the fact that we are all together is the biggest blessing of all.
There is a book my kids like to pull out every Christmas and ask me to read. I think they do it to me simply because they know I can’t get through it without crying. The Littlest Angel. I always start out strong, until I get to the part where the little angel gives his box of treasures to Jesus. That’s when I lose it. Heck, I’m losing it right now thinking about that part. Our humblest gifts given in love are the most beloved and precious in God’s eyes.
There will be several new littlest angels this Christmas hovering over Newtown. To their parents, I offer my deepest sympathy and heartfelt prayers for comfort and healing. Take the time you need to heal, and know that however long that is, it is okay. If you have other children, do not forget them. They need you now more than ever, and being there for them is the best memorial you can ever give to your departed sons and daughters. For their friends and acquaintances, and for those of anyone enduring a loss this season, give of yourself with a loving heart, and know your gift will far outshine any you could buy at the local department store.
Veronica Coons is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.